The GOP presidential contenders sat around Charlie Rose’s table Tuesday night in New Hampshire for a Bloomberg/Washington Post–sponsored debate and National Review Online has some expert analysis.
The Republican debaters showed up last night in New Hampshire to discuss the anemic U.S. economy. Mitt Romney was crisp and clear as he described his plan to oust Obamacare (“repeal and replace”), impose trade sanctions on China, and cut tax rates and spending to spur the economy. Herman Cain vigorously defended his “9-9-9” plan as a spur to liberty and economic growth, but in this debate he caught flak from the questioner (“It will reduce revenue”) and from Michele Bachmann and others, who said the new sales tax would give government a chance to expand. But Cain held firm: 9-9-9 would raise productivity, induce more risk-taking, and expand the tax base. Rick Perry focused on creating U. S. energy independence, but had few specifics, and often seemed tentative. He criticized the Solyndra debacle, but defended his Texas program to give aid to tech companies in the state.
The candidates did more jesting with each other than fussing (John Huntsman suggested 9-9-9 was a pizza price). Oddly the sum of their content was better than the parts — Gingrich ridiculed Obama’s press conferences, Bachmann talked about her 23 foster kids, Cain waxed eloquent on how working hard can help you live the American dream.
Romney and Cain will probably gain from the debate, and the rest of the pack will drop back.
— Burton Folsom is professor of history at Hillsdale College and co-author (with Anita Folsom) of FDR Goes to War (Simon & Schuster), which was just released yesterday.
In a week in which two American economists from the non-Keynesian side of the ledger received the Nobel Prize for Economics, last night’s GOP debate gave us some insight into the depth and character of the various candidates’ free-market commitments and the different policy priorities which flow from the various forms of those commitments.
For the most part, the candidates focused upon the institutional background that either impedes or facilitates economic growth: the regulatory environment, tax levels, trade policy, monetary policy, etc. Listening to the responses was a salutary reminder of the gap between America’s free-market aspirations and rhetoric, and the rather different Eurosclerotic economic reality that has slowly enveloped America — and not just over the past three years, but over several decades.
The surprising omission was substantial discussion of the issue of welfare reform and the related question of America’s public debt. While Obamacare was continually criticized because of its costs, that’s only part of the picture. Substantive entitlement reform is indispensable if we want to significantly reduce the spending and deficits that threaten to suck the life out of America’s economy. Addressing this subject is of course very politically risky because far too many Americans are more attached to the welfare state than they care to admit. But if fiscal conservatives aren’t willing to tackle this issue, then who will?
— Samuel Gregg is research director at the Acton Institute. His several books include On Ordered Liberty, the prize-winning The Commercial Society, Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy, and the forthcoming Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and America’s Future.
I went into the debate thinking about Fred Barnes’s piece yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, in which he suggested that GOP debaters are at a disadvantage because control of the format is ceded to a class of folks Republicans loathe — i.e., the members of the press. Well, the news from Tuesday night is that GOP candidates are no longer afraid of the liberal media. Charlie Rose and Karen Tumulty were cleverly disguised as questioners, but in reality they were the other debating team.
I think it is fair to say that neither Rose nor Tumulty laid a glove on any one of the eight Republicans. (The third panelist, Julianna Goldman, was a cipher.) I will never forget Ms. Tumulty asking Michele Bachmann if it is “right that no Wall Street executive has gone to jail” for the 2008 financial meltdown. Tumulty cited no illegal actions, but apparently she believes that being a Wall Street executive is borderline illegal. She also looked like she could personally lock ’em up. When Bachmann — quite rightly — blamed government policies for the meltdown, Tumulty seemed disappointed. Oh, and just for the record: Ms. Tumulty isn’t against all Wall Streeters. She made sympathetic noises about the Occupy Wall Street protesters. She asked Newt Gingrich if he believes that these good Wall Streeters “have no grievance.” Gingrich agreed that they do have legitimate complaints, but added that it is with the politicians whose policy decisions caused the meltdown, not Wall Street executives. Poor Ms. Tumulty, thwarted. “But you’re clearly not saying that they [politicians] are going to jail?” interjected Rose.
“Well, in the case of [former Senator] Chris Dodd and Countrywide,” Newt said he wasn’t sure they didn’t belong in the hoosegow. It was his best moment of the evening.
Mitt Romney — as usual — won hands down. He had his best explanation so far of why Romneycare isn’t Obamacare (it was state-level, designed to accommodate only the 8 percent that were uninsured, and didn’t take over a sixth of the economy). He was just right in his subtle mention of his BFF Chris Christie, who had endorsed him earlier in the day.
Herman Cain: Okay, we’re all falling in love with Mr. Cain and the clarity of his 9-9-9 plan (well, Rick Santorum isn’t), but Cain had a disastrous moment. Asked to name the best Federal Reserve chairman of the last 40 years (Tumulty!), any sane person deflects the question. Cain answered it: Alan Greenspan. Oops.
Rick Perry: Nobody will ever accuse Rick Perry of being a slick debater. But he did have one very good moment. When he was asked to comment on a video of Ronald Reagan, who had just compromised with Democrats (“compromising with Democrats” was Charlie’s big theme) by raising taxes, Perry pointed out that it was a different time and besides, as Reagan himself later lamented, he raised the taxes but the cuts never got made.
Jon Huntsman: His jokes were all pre-packaged, but for once they made you laugh rather than cringe. He was even mildly funny telling fellow Mormon Romney that he wasn’t going to raise the religious issue. It was clear that Romney and Huntsman are the two candidates most knowledgeable about the economy. But Huntsman doesn’t have a real shot at the nomination, and the best that can be said is that he didn’t say anything to anger the base last night. I was going to say he and Romney have the best hair — but, when you come right down to it, Perry and Gingrich aren’t far behind in that department. Oh, heck, they all have great hair but Cain, and he’s got 9-9-9.
— Charlotte Hays is a senior fellow at Independent Women’s Forum.
Mitt Romney is way out in front of this field right now. I’d love to see a strong challenge from Romney’s right, but it’s just not happening so far. Rick Perry was lackluster — weaker than before. How do you go into a two-hour debate armed with only a talking point about energy? Cain was engaging, but his lack of experience shows. His sales-tax idea is bad, too. Bachmann did well, especially bringing up CRA, Fannie, Freddie, and IPAB. Bachmann isn’t going to displace Romney, however. Santorum is effective in debate, but he’s running from too weak a position. Gingrich: baggage. Huntsman: too liberal. Paul: Don’t kill Osama. I don’t see the usual pigeonholes changing.
Mitt’s answer on Romneycare was less than stellar. Everything else about his performance was impressive, though. I worry about Romney, and not just because of Romneycare. Of necessity, Mitt mastered a politics of accommodation in Massachusetts. You can see the pattern in Scott Brown, who learned it from Mitt. Still, Romney’s business background makes him a wide-ocean better than Obama. I could support him with enthusiasm as the nominee.
I’m still looking for a credible not-Romney, but what I’m seeing instead is Mitt cleaning Obama’s clock in debates and waltzing into the Oval Office. At this rate a quick resolution is at least on the table. Mitt could take Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, and it could all be over in a flash.
— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the author of Radical-in-Chief.
First, to the debate organizers: As Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum continually prove by skillfully interjecting and weaving other issues into the debates about the economy, we don’t need another debate that is focused exclusively on the economy and the candidates’ plans regarding it. There are, indeed, a lot of other issues out there that have received short shrift in the debates and it would surprise me if there are more than ten likely Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, combined, who — at this point — cannot tell us the economic plans of the Republican candidates. Second, if the media want to now embrace Ronald Reagan with snippets of his speeches to prove or score a point, give the whole context — the one tonight was over a policy that did not represent Reaganomics but was aberrant to it, something Ed Meese called “the greatest domestic error of the Reagan administration.”
My continual thought when watching these debates is which candidate will best stand up to Barack Obama and the MSM come 2012. Mitt Romney has proven, especially in the past two debates, a skill that I have not seen in a very long time — an ability to take the strongest of direct criticisms with the best of cheer and zero guile and turn the point around to what he wants to say, looking his accuser in the eye the whole time. This is to say nothing of content, but as an ability for the long and tiring haul, it’s very commendable, very unusual at the level he displays it, and worth considering.
Gingrich and Santorum continue to prove their depth and breadth and deserve more time. Rick Perry was at his strongest in his first debate, but stopped the bleeding. He didn’t forfeit any ground tonight but neither did he advance very much — one wants his answers to be as strong as his image and reputation, and they still seem lacking by a few degrees of confidence. Herman Cain will continue to do just fine after tonight, but still leaves concern about how 9-9-9 can get implemented or work (especially at the consumption level). Bachmann was her usual articulate and cheerful self and gave her supporters cause to stick with her but probably didn’t add to her support (one senses it’s pretty close to its maximum about now). Paul was at his best, it’s the other issues alluded to above that will (and should) do his candidacy in. Huntsman needs to know his little jokes are simply not funny. They just aren’t.
In all, until we get to those other issues, we’re still left shrugging a bit. We all want more. The team is fine (mostly), we just want to see them play the whole game.
— Seth Leibsohn is a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ
The table belonged to Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain at Tuesday night’s Bloomberg debate.
And the Rick Perry strategy appears to be to not put a lot of energy into the debates.
At various times around the Charlie Rose–moderated table, it was easy to forget there were others there. Mr. Cain’s 9-9-9 plan was a star of the show. Who would have predicted that, when Rep. Michele Bachmann was winning the Iowa straw poll not so long ago?
A key moment for Governor Romney may have been during the ask-another-candidate round, when he didn’t even bother with Governor Perry, instead asking Michele Bachmann more about her economic plan. And he did it with a smile. Romney may not be driving conservatives wild for him, but he does have a happy-warrior nature to him. Someone you could have some confidence in to make good business/stewardship decisions.
Speaker Gingrich demonstrated where he is most commanding: leading a seminar table.
And Rick Santorum effectively focused on the family, as Dr. James Dobson might put it, in a nice closer. He hasn’t had his boomlet moment, but he’s hung in there with the courage of his convictions, as he is wont to do.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.